OTTAWA, March 1 Canada's telecom regulator ruled
on Wednesday that wireless startup Sugar Mobile cannot continue
to use Rogers Communications Inc's network to keep
customers connected, a decision critics said was a blow to
consumers who face high prices.
Ice Wireless, which operates a mobile network in Canada's
northern territories and northern Quebec, brought the issue
before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission (CRTC) in February last year, saying that Rogers
planned to end a reciprocal agreement that allows customers to
use its network when they are roaming.
Sugar Mobile, an affiliate of Ice Wireless, is a mobile
virtual network operator that offers wireless service across
Canada using wi-fi or cellular data accessed through a SIM card
registered to Ice Wireless.
Because of Ice Wireless' agreement with Rogers, Sugar's
5,500 users were able to also access Rogers' network. The
company launched a C$19 ($14.23) a month program to serve
customers who do not live in the north, allowing them to choose
a phone number with an area code from anywhere in Canada.
Ice Wireless had argued that Sugar users were accessing the
Rogers' network on an incidental basis as its service is
provided primarily through wi-fi.
But the CRTC ruled that the company had improperly allowed
Sugar users to "obtain permanent rather than incidental" access
to Rogers' cell network.
Advocacy group OpenMedia said on Wednesday the CRTC's
decision effectively paralyzes Sugar and called for a review of
rules around smaller companies roaming on established providers'
Samer Bishay, Chief Executive of Ice Wireless and Sugar
Mobile, said he was disappointed and would review the decision
in detail before deciding the company's next steps.
The CRTC gave Sugar 50 days to stop using Rogers' network.
For now, customers will be able to use Sugars' service
uninterrupted, Bishay said.
David Watt, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs at
Rogers, said the company was pleased with the decision.
"This was about violating a roaming agreement, plain and
simple," Watt said.
Critics say that the cost of phone services are kept high
due to the fact that Canada's telecom landscape is dominated by
just three large companies - Rogers, BCE Inc and Telus
"This decision is very bad news for long-suffering wireless
customers," OpenMedia's Katy Anderson said in a statement.
($1 = C$1.3348)
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Diane Craft)